Friday, October 16, 2009


Voices on the Death Penalty Panel at Rhodes College

On Thursday, October 22 at 7:00 at Rhodes College in Memphis, a panel of speakers will share their perspectives on the death penalty. Each of these panelists has been directly touched by this issue in a personal way.

Paul and Joyce House will be there for their first time together speaking in a public forum. Paul was released from death row in 2008 after he served 22 years for a crime that new evidence (including DNA) demonstrated he didn't commit. All the charges against him were finally dropped in May 2009. His mother, Joyce, has been a tireless advocate for her son, speaking to audiences statewide, including many lawmakers, concerning Paul and the problems with Tennessee's death penalty system.

Kathy Kent will also share her personal journey as a murder victim's family member. She is a criminal defense attorney who lives and practices in Memphis, Tennessee, and has been representing indigent defendants for fifteen years. In 1995, Kathy's brother, Ken McCullough, lost his life in the Oklahoma City bombing. He was one of the eight federal agents for whose murders Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed.

I will also be a member of the panel as director of TCASK (soon to be Tennesseans for Altneratives to the Death Penalty or TADP) but also as the spiritual advisor to Steve Henley, who I visited on death row for nearly 10 years before his execution in February. Having witnessed an execution, an experience I live with everyday, this issue is not only a policy and moral issue for me but a personal one as well.

The final panelist is Ron McAndrew who has spent his career in corrections. He began his career in Florida in 1978 and climbed the ranks to the position of Warden at Florida State Prison. In 1996, Mr. McAndrew oversaw his first execution followed by the execution of two other men, including Pedro Medina whose electrocution went awry causing Medina to catch fire. One year after this experience, Mr. McAndrew was transferred from Florida State Prison to the warden's position at the Central Florida Reception Center. For the past four years, Mr. McAndrew has worked as a prison and jail consultant.

I heard Ron speak last year at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty conference, and the entire room was spellbound. A longtime supporter of the death penalty, Ron's own journey within the death penalty system has led him now to oppose the continued use of the death penalty in our country. As a former warden, he, as much as anyone, understands the realities of violent crime in our communities but does not believe that the death penalty reduces that violence. In fact, the death penalty is only another form of it.

I hope any of you in the Memphis area will be in attendance for this extraordinary event. I can assure you the stories will be ones you won't soon forget.
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